I wrote this story for “In Sudan” magazine April 2010 edition. You can find this article on page 6 of the full magazine below.
Though they live beside the banks of the Nile River, Malakal residents still find access to clean water a daily challenge.
In 2007, the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) established a unit called the Urban Water Department within the Upper Nile State government’s Ministry of Physical Infrastructure to improve water supply in the city.
“We have been supplying up to 6,000 cubic metres per day to residents,” said Urban Water Department’s Deputy Director Peter Nhia Gai.
But the majority of Malakal residents continue to use untreated water from the river, according to UNICEF Water and Sanitation Specialist Eissa Mustafa.
“The 6,000 cubic metres of clean water are not enough for the entire population of Malakal,” noted Mr. Mustafa. The 2008 Sudan Population and Housing Census estimated the population of Malakal County at 126,483.
“The distribution network is not well established,” he said. “There are so many households (without) clean water connections.”
The city’s Central Water Station, currently under renovation, distributes water to three points known as Dar Salam, Central Malakal and North Malakal.
Built in 1937, the station and its network supply infrastructure collapsed during the country’s second civil war. The aging water station failed to resume full operations until the founding of the Urban Water Department three years ago.
The United States Agency for International Development provided a new pump and water treatment chemicals to the department, which now relies on government funds for its day-to-day operations.
“The funding is only enough to pay the employees and to buy fuel to run the water station from 6 a.m. to 12 noon,” said Mr. Gai of the department. “We are supposed to run it for 12 hours.”
He added that the government has also been unable to provide water treatment chemicals like chlorine and aluminium sulphate.
The department charges a monthly fee for its service. “Each household with access to tapped water pays 15 Sudanese pounds per month,” said Mr. Gai. “However, this amount has not been enough to cover the cost of operations.”
The Urban Water Department has received support from different development partners. UNICEF, which tried to renovate the Central Water Station in 2003, supplies water treatment chemicals to the department and runs a chlorination project that teaches local residents how to treat the Nile River water.
The UN agency supplies the city with 80,000 litres of clean water each day through two distribution points in the Upper Nile State capital, according to Mr. Mustafa.
It has also installed water distribution pipes and donated clean water tanks to schools and hospitals.
The French non-governmental organization Solidarités has opened eight water distribution points in Malakal since it commenced operations in the city in 2007.
Solidarités treats the water and delivers it by truck to distribution points on a daily basis.
“We supply on average 2,000 to 5,000 litres of water every day,” said Solidarités Programme Manager Julien Racary. “Each water point has a different capacity depending on the needs of the community.”
When the renovation of the water station is completed, said Mr. Gai, it will be capable of supplying 10,000 cubic metres of water each day.
But there is no such thing as a free lunch, especially when it comes to H2O. The department official says the cost of the service to consumers may more than double at that point to 40 Sudanese pounds a month.